The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) has won the Association of Defense Communities’ Base Redevelopment Excellence Award for its efforts at Chaffee Crossing.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, made a special trip to the Arkansas River Valley Nature Center in Fort Smith on Tuesday night (June 28) to present the award to FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen. In comments to Chaffee Crossing business leaders and FCRA staff, Womack said the Award held national significance.
“Everybody wants to be remembered for something. Everybody wants to be compared to something great, and the rest of the country is going to start trying to compare themselves to what you have done here,” Womack said. “People from all over the country from other impressive areas who are going through what we’re going through here will be looking to the city of Fort Smith and Barling and Chaffee – the entire River Valley – and asking, ‘How can we be like them?'”
FCRA first received the award in 2012. The 2016 accomplishment makes for the second time it has won in the last five years.
According to the ADC website, the Award recognizes a community or local redevelopment authority (LRA) whose efforts “demonstrate leadership and vision to address the community’s specific economic needs following base realignment or closure; have shown measurable results; incorporate innovative public-private partnerships; and serve as a model for other communities across the country.”
The federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommended in 1995 the permanent closure of Fort Chaffee, then an active U.S. Army post with around 72,000 acres. The federal government opted to lease 65,000 acres to the Arkansas Army National Guard to be used for training. The remaining 7,000+ acres were turned returned to civilian authorities for reuse. The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority was formed in 1997 and began the process of converting the property to industrial, commercial, residential and recreational use.
Owen called it “one of the biggest events in our history,” and said the award represented in part the more than 1,600 jobs and $1.3 billion in capital investments made at Chaffee Crossing over the last 15 years. For almost 10 of those years, the organization has been under Owen’s leadership, and that’s something he has no intention of stopping any time soon.
In comments during and after the event, Owen confirmed he had considered retirement but after talking with his wife Barbara, decided against it. He said in comments to Talk Business & Politics that he plans to stay in the position “a couple of more years, at least,” and said one of his next goals would be to partner with Fort Smith’s Central Business Improvement District (CBID) to help develop the downtown area, though he said the talks with CBID Chairman Richard Griffin were “just starting” and that “six months from now, there will probably be an announcement of some kind.”
“We decided that Chaffee Crossing and Downtown Fort Smith are partners, and we’re going to become partners that can be noticed in the community,” Owen said. “Richard and I talked this morning and this afternoon, and we’re going to come up with some ideas. We’re going to try to make east Fort Smith and Downtown one. We’re going to become one community working together to make everything better for everybody.”
As for what the FCRA must do to continue its momentum into the rest of 2016 and 2017, Owen said, “We’ll just need to keep getting new, fresh ideas. With land use, the things we’re doing now are more concentrated, more specific. Smaller businesses like Jennifer Parks’ insurance agency that just opened – those types of businesses are what we’re going to see a lot more of moving forward. The big 40-, 50-acre developments are about over. It’s the 9-, 10-acre stuff that’s going to happen now. What we’ll have to do is focus differently, be more micro-focused, you might say.”
Owen continued: “We have it going our way. We just have to keep it going our way.”